Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Self-serving vs. Selfish

I've been in an ongoing discussion with some of my students and a colleague about the difference between self-service and selfishness. The Bible is full of appeals to rewards that an individual would desire, and its authors simply assume that there is no contradiction between doing something for another that is also benefiting oneself in the short or long term.

Post-Kantian ethics introduces an alternative premise that ruins this assumption. Kant basically argued that virtue is the fulfillment of a duty apart from any consideration for what one may gain from its fulfillment. We ought not to obey a law because we will be rewarded. We ought to obey a law simply because it is right to do so--it is the most rational choice.

But even Jesus endured the cross, "for the joy that was set before him," and the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son was an agreement that rewarded the Son (with the Father and the Spirit) with glory upon the conditions of the covenant. If God Himself is righteous in seeking His own good through the lavishing of good upon others, why should we, as God's image-bearers, consider ourselves bound to a "higher" standard? Really, Kant's standard isn't higher, but rather inhuman. God created men with wills and affections that cooperate with his rational mind to engage in appropriate worship of the Triune God. A Christian should not simply obey out of a sense of duty to the rationally correct choice (although that would be better than disobedience and dereliction of duty!). Rather, the Christian is motivated out of a sense of thanksgiving for what God has given to him, and out of a desire to please God. It is also the case that the Christian obeys from a hope that his obedience will be rewarded by the Father.

The idea of working for a reward smacks of "works righteousness" to the ear of many Christians. Since we cannot "earn our salvation," it is foolish to think of works as a kind of reward, so the sentiment goes. But there is a misconception in the nature of works under this view. Works are something that follow upon salvation, not something that precedes it. A salvation that did not include the fruit of good works would be a salvation that does not save. For what else is the Christian saved into but obedience and wholehearted effort to do that which is right before God and men? No one rescues a plant from withering without expecting it to produce fruit. I didn't adopt my two oldest boys in order for them to languish in idleness. Nor does our Heavenly Father deliver us from death that we might remain stagnant or frozen in our affections or will to do. Rather, God has prepared for us works beforehand, that we may walk in them. Paul refers to the Philippians as his crown. There is a real sense in which the good works we do are really only a benefit to ourselves in a secondary way, because a real work of good never benefits a single, isolated individual. Even if one of the works I do is to cultivate my soul through spiritual discipline, it must of necessity please God to be more like Him, and it must of necessity spill out into the relationships God has put me in. Are not more loving relationships a type of reward? Is not the pleasure of our Heavenly Father a reward? Can we say that our progress in sanctification is not a reward? Is any Christian capable of maintaining that such rewards ought not to be pursued, desired, or otherwise worked out in fear and trembling?

It would take a fairly complex argument to do so, I should think. I'm still waiting to hear one from any of my students, in any case.

Book Log - August & September 2012

Books Bought:

51. Education in Ancient Rome - Stanley F. Bonner. I bought this one to read (eventually) for background on some of the exercises I use for my rhetoric classes.

52. Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ourms? - Roland Allen. I bought this upon recommendation of a pastor friend of mine. I'm currently reading it and finding it very eye-opening and thought-provoking.

53. Koheleth: The Man and His World - Robert Gordis. I cannot remember who recommended this book to me, but it looks to be a promising resource on Ecclesiastes.

Books Read:

37. Reforming Marriage - Douglas Wilson. I remember my pastors in Texas referring to this book as the one that says, "it's the husband's fault." They were jesting, of course, but Wilson's take on marriage is very "federal." I appreciate that, although many find it offensive for this or that reason.

38. The Silver Chair - C. S. Lewis. I read this book to the boys in early August before school. They have been listening to the dramatized versions of the Chronicles of Narnia all summer, so I thought they'd be willing to sit through the book. They did lose a bit of steam, but enjoyed it for the most part.

39. On Secular Education - R. L. Dabney. I read this in preparation for a board meeting that is upcoming. It is a very prescient treatment of the issues of State-run education, and of the necessity for Christian education.

40. Cassiodorus: Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning and On the Soul - Halporn and Vessey. I read this book to get some background on classical education. It was helpful, although I really only skimmed it, rather than reading it closely.

41. The Word of God and the Mind of Man - Ronald Nash. This is a book I've had for awhile that I nabbed when one of my pastors was liquidating some of his library. It is a decent book for what it covers, but it isn't as profound as Gordon Clark (Nash's mentor). The ideas are helpful though, and probably more palatable to some than Clark's works.

42. Wordsmithy - Douglas Wilson. I read this upon the recommendation of one of my former students. It was a quick and enjoyable treatment, with lots of helpful advice. I don't always appreciate Wilson's persistent attempts to be pithy, but it works very well for this sort of book.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Witherspoon's Calvinism as causal leverage for a robust view of rhetoric

Jeffry Morrison in his book, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, gives the following evaluation of Witherspoon's view of Church and State:

But for all of his recommendations that magistrates "use their authority for the glory of God" and "reform and restrain impiety," Witherspoon was no theocrat. Nor does his talk of making "public provision for the worship of God" prove that he advocated "active state support of Protestant Christianity," as one commentatory has claimed, let alone any sort of establishment, as others have claimed. To begin with the obvious, Witherspoon did not stipulate "Protestant Christianity,"only public worship that was agreeable to the "great body of the people." Presumably this could have meant the Roman Catholicism in the case of Maryland, a historically Catholic colony, or other traditions at more local levels such as counties or townships. Furthermore, "public provision for the worship of God" could admit of any number of government actions, all short of promoting Protestantism or any sectarian version of Christianity whatever. (34)

How is it that Witherspoon could, as a Calvinist of impeachable Reformed orthodox credentials, advocate for the support of public religion without advocating for establishment? How could such general affirmation be strong enough, explicit enough to ensure that the Christian religion flourish in the way that Witherspoon sought for it to flourish? There is a clue to his confidence in one of his Thanksgiving addresses:

Good laws may hold the rotten bark some longer together, but in a little time all laws must give way to the tide of popular opinion, and be laid prostrate under universal practice. Hence it clearly follows, that the teachers and rulers of every religious denomination are bound mutually to each other, and to the whole society, to watch over the manners of their several members. (23)

It would seem that Witherspoon places the chief burden of securing Christian society, not upon the explicit formulation of laws, but upon the cultivation of Christianity's own citizens by the sound shepherding of her clergy. Establishment by law is of no import should the minds and desires of the people drift away from religious beliefs and practices. Establishment laws may not positively motivate so much as they would constrain certain negative motives popularly acknowledged. Yet should the tide of belief change, the laws (within a republican form of government) would soon follow, or become a dead letter.

Morrison appears to concur, saying, "True religion was to act as a sort of leaven, working its healthy influence throughout the political body without benefit of formal establishment but with equal aid and protection from the state" (36).

Liberty of conscience is the key principle behind Witherspoon's claims, both in ecclesiastical and political realms. If Calvinists would not stand for a Pope or a Patriarch to command their consciences before Almighty God in matters of religion, how could they consistently command such from others where the power of the majority and control of the State was theirs? Within this Calvinist conception of the liberty of conscience lay the seedbed for a robust appreciation for the potentiality, nay the necessity of persuasion, and hence, the necessities of a well-developed theory and practice of rhetoric.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sciences are humanities, too.

But the popular image of science is often different from the way it really works. Consciously or unconsciously, scientists are propagandists. To the outside world, they present science as a series of great discoveries, as smooth upwards progress towards truth. But inside science, fierce debates and controversies rage constantly. The public is shielded from these in several ways. First, scientific language is often technical and difficult for the non-scientists to penetrate. Secondly, science textbooks used everywhere from elementary school to university tend to conceal disagreement. This helps students by simplifying material, but it also serves to reinforce the image of science as "objective truth" above all questioning, and thereby reinforces the enormous social and political authority of science.

Disagreement about the interpretation of scientific theories is normal. No major theory of science is free of debate about its truth, meaning and implications.

J.B. Kennedy, Space, Time and Einstein, p. 20.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Augustine on Calamity and Contentment

Chapter 8.—Of the Advantages and Disadvantages Which Often Indiscriminately Accrue to Good and Wicked Men.

Will some one say, Why, then, was this divine compassion extended even to the ungodly and ungrateful? Why, but because it was the mercy of Him who daily “maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” For though some of these men, taking thought of this, repent of their wickedness and reform, some, as the apostle says, “despising the riches of His goodness and long-suffering, after their hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds:” nevertheless does the patience of God still invite the wicked to repentance, even as the scourge of God educates the good to patience. And so, too, does the mercy of God embrace the good that it may cherish them, as the severity of God arrests the wicked to punish them. To the divine providence it has seemed good to prepare in the world to come for the righteous good things, which the unrighteous shall not enjoy; and for the wicked evil things, by which the good shall not be tormented. But as for the good things of this life, and its ills, God has willed that these should be common to both; that we might not too eagerly covet the things which wicked men are seen equally to enjoy, nor shrink with an unseemly fear from the ills which even good men often suffer.

There is, too, a very great difference in the purpose served both by those events which we call adverse and those called prosperous. For the good man is neither uplifted with the good things of time, nor broken by its ills; but the wicked man, because he is corrupted by this world’s happiness, feels himself punished by its unhappiness.

Yet often, even in the present distribution of temporal things, does God plainly evince His own interference. For if every sin were now visited with manifest punishment, nothing would seem to be reserved for the final judgment; on the other hand, if no sin received now a plainly divine punishment, it would be concluded that there is no divine providence at all. And so of the good things of this life: if God did not by a very visible liberality confer these on some of those persons who ask for them, we should say that these good things were not at His disposal; and if He gave them to all who sought them, we should suppose that such were the only rewards of His service; and such a service would make us not godly, but greedy rather, and covetous.

Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.

 Chapter 9.—Of the Reasons for Administering Correction to Bad and Good Together.

What, then, have the Christians suffered in that calamitous period, which would not profit every one who duly and faithfully considered the following circumstances?

 First of all, they must humbly consider those very sins which have provoked God to fill the world with such terrible disasters; for although they be far from the excesses of wicked, immoral, and ungodly men, yet they do not judge themselves so clean removed from all faults as to be too good to suffer for these even temporal ills. For every man, however laudably he lives, yet yields in some points to the lust of the flesh. Though he do not fall into gross enormity of wickedness, and abandoned viciousness, and abominable profanity, yet he slips into some sins, either rarely or so much the more frequently as the sins seem of less account. But not to mention this, where can we readily find a man who holds in fit and just estimation those persons on account of whose revolting pride, luxury, and avarice, and cursed iniquities and impiety, God now smites the earth as His predictions threatened? Where is the man who lives with them in the style in which it becomes us to live with them?

For often we wickedly blind ourselves to the occasions of teaching and admonishing them, sometimes even of reprimanding and chiding them, either because we shrink from the labor or are ashamed to offend them, or because we fear to lose good friendships, lest this should stand in the way of our advancement, or injure us in some worldly matter, which either our covetous disposition desires to obtain, or our weakness shrinks from losing. So that, although the conduct of wicked men is distasteful to the good, and therefore they do not fall with them into that damnation which in the next life awaits such persons, yet, because they spare their damnable sins through fear, therefore, even though their own sins be slight and venial, they are justly scourged with the wicked in this world, though in eternity they quite escape punishment. Justly, when God afflicts them in common with the wicked, do they find this life bitter, through love of whose sweetness they declined to be bitter to these sinners.

If any one forbears to reprove and find fault with those who are doing wrong, because he seeks a more seasonable opportunity, or because he fears they may be made worse by his rebuke, or that other weak persons may be disheartened from endeavoring to lead a good and pious life, and may be driven from the faith; this man’s omission seems to be occasioned not by covetousness, but by a charitable consideration. But what is blame-worthy is, that they who themselves revolt from the conduct of the wicked, and live in quite another fashion, yet spare those faults in other men which they ought to reprehend and wean them from; and spare them because they fear to give offence, lest they should injure their interests in those things which good men may innocently and legitimately use,—though they use them more greedily than becomes persons who are strangers in this world, and profess the hope of a heavenly country.

For not only the weaker brethren who enjoy married life, and have children (or desire to have them), and own houses and establishments, whom the apostle addresses in the churches, warning and instructing them how they should live, both the wives with their husbands, and the husbands with their wives, the children with their parents, and parents with their children, and servants with their masters, and masters with their servants,—not only do these weaker brethren gladly obtain and grudgingly lose many earthly and temporal things on account of which they dare not offend men whose polluted and wicked life greatly displeases them; but those also who live at a higher level, who are not entangled in the meshes of married life, but use meagre food and raiment, do often take thought of their own safety and good name, and abstain from finding fault with the wicked, because they fear their wiles and violence. And although they do not fear them to such an extent as to be drawn to the commission of like iniquities, nay, not by any threats or violence soever; yet those very deeds which they refuse to share in the commission of they often decline to find fault with, when possibly they might by finding fault prevent their commission. They abstain from interference, because they fear that, if it fail of good effect, their own safety or reputation may be damaged or destroyed; not because they see that their preservation and good name are needful, that they may be able to influence those who need their instruction, but rather because they weakly relish the flattery and respect of men, and fear the judgments of the people, and the pain or death of the body; that is to say, their non-intervention is the result of selfishness, and not of love.

Accordingly this seems to me to be one principal reason why the good are chastised along with the wicked, when God is pleased to visit with temporal punishments the profligate manners of a community. They are punished together, not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; while they ought to hold it cheap, that the wicked, being admonished and reformed by their example, might lay hold of life eternal. And if they will not be the companions of the good in seeking life everlasting, they should be loved as enemies, and be dealt with patiently. For so long as they live, it remains uncertain whether they may not come to a better mind.

These selfish persons have more cause to fear than those to whom it was said through the prophet, “He is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.” For watchmen or overseers of the people are appointed in churches, that they may unsparingly rebuke sin. Nor is that man guiltless of the sin we speak of, who, though he be not a watchman, yet sees in the conduct of those with whom the relationships of this life bring him into contact, many things that should be blamed, and yet overlooks them, fearing to give offence, and lose such worldly blessings as may legitimately be desired, but which he too eagerly grasps. Then, lastly, there is another reason why the good are afflicted with temporal calamities—the reason which Job’s case exemplifies: that the human spirit may be proved, and that it may be manifested with what fortitude of pious trust, and with how unmercenary a love, it cleaves to God.

~City of God Book I, Chapter 8 and 9

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Log - July 2012

Books Read:
30. A Christian View of Men and Things - Gordon Clark. A reread for me. Clark is brilliant, lucid, and completely demolishes opposition to Biblical epistemology from unbelievers and inconsistent Christian thinkers. The book is arranged topically, but Clark proceeds through each topic to accumulate the case for Scriptural foundations for knowledge and its justification.

31. 2 Kings - Dale Ralph Davis. I've been reading this in conjunction with teaching through 1 and 2 Kings in Sunday School. DRD is my favorite "lay-level" expositor. He engages with enough scholarship to provide helpful insights, but retains some well-placed applications. He isn't comprehensive, but he's pithy and he doesn't mince words or make mealy-mouthed suppositions.

32. Full Metal Alchemist 4
33. Full Metal Alchemist 5
34. Full Metal Alchemist 6
All of the above are continuations of my "junk food" reading. I have no good justification other than it interests me in several superficial ways.

35. The Anatomy of Prose - Marjorie Boulton. I got this one to help stimulate some writing pedagogy for the upcoming year. It is an older book (1954 I think), but has some helpful discussions. Particularly helpful was the chapter on prose rhythm.

36. Feed My Lambs - Tim Gallant. This book gives the best exegetical case (in terms of comprehensiveness) for paedocommunion. I don't find all of Gallant's arguments demonstrative (like many others, he tends to rely too much upon what he thinks are shared assumptions), but many of them are compelling when given some further thought. The opponent claims he addresses seem pretty weak, but he's gathering them from credible sources. I was convinced of paedocommunion before reading this book, and Gallant's fine work only solidifies my convictions. If you are on the fence, or haven't even considered the doctrine, you should start here. If you aren't covenantal or reformed, you won't be ready for this book, yet.

Books Bought:
40. The Creation of the American Republic,1776-1787 - Gordon S. Wood.
41. The Enlightenment in America - Henry F. May.
42. Rhetoric and History in Revolutionary New England - Donald Weber
43. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution - Bernard Bailyn
44. Scottish Enlightenment and the American College Ideal - Douglas Sloan
45. Revolution & Religion: American Revolutionary War and the Reformed Clergy - Keith L. Griffin
46. Things, Thoughts, Words, and Actions - H. Lewis Ulman
47. Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times - George A. Kennedy
48. John Witherspoon Comes to America - L. H. Butterfield
49. John Witherspoon: Parson, politician, patriot - Martha Lou Lemmon Stohlman
50. History of Speech Education in America - Karl Wallace

All of the books I bought this month are resources for my dissertation, with the exception of the George Kennedy volume, which, sadly, seems to have been lost in the mail, since I've not yet received it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

When Reformation isn't enough

I have been steaming along in Sunday school trying to reach the end of 2 Kings before the summer is out. We've been studying 1 and 2 Kings since last year, and it has been a profitable study for me, and I hope and pray for the students as well.

This past week we read about Josiah's reforms. The last hundred or so years of Judah's history is quite a roller coaster ride. Hezekiah exhibits faith in God worthy of David, institutes religious reforms, and manages to see Assyria pushed back for a time. Manasseh plunges the land into its worst idolatry ever, comparable only to Jeroboam of Israel, who overturned every category of the worship of the Lord God in order to set up his own religion in the hopes of keeping the northern tribes from turning back to Jerusalem and the tribe of Judah. Manasseh may be the worst king of Judah, but Josiah is probably the best since David. He purges the land of idolatry, reestablishes the covenant and the Law, and holds the first Passover since the time of the judges. In terms of the history of the Divided Kingdom and the message of the prophets to the people to turn from their sins and repent, Josiah's reforms represent the pinnacle of faithful obedience.


Despite the fervency and extent of Josiah's reforms, the Lord God was unwilling to relent in dragging Judah into exile.

It is a sobering consideration to think that the best efforts at reform can still result in circumstances that are painful, unsavory, or even destructive. Doesn't the Lord God delight in showing mercy? Isn't His ultimate purpose to beautify the Bride of Christ? Isn't it true that when the people humble themselves and repent that the Lord will cause them to be restored and make them prosper? Of course each of these questions demand an affirmative response, and yet it is not contradictory for the Lord to delay, withhold, and otherwise forestall mercy and restoration, and for the express purpose of beautifying the Church. One can say it brings a deeper sense of humility, or of gratitude, or a host of other generalizations that may be true enough as far as they go. But the ultimate purpose remains unchanging, and there is no circumstance, and even no sin that does not serve to further the realization of that purpose. The Lord God suffered the Church to endure the malicious persecutions of Saul in order that the Paul He was fashioning would harvest a multitude. Did those who died from Saul's sin have less of God's mercy, or was it rather of a different tone and temper? Was Jeremiah less favored of God because he was called to preach the embracing of exile in a time of peace, prosperity, and relative stability? Or consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore far worse than any member or community within the Church. Is He not the Most Highly Favored? Yet he suffered the most, and lived the purest.

The simple reality is that our lot in life is particular while the promises of God are general. Their realization is assured, but the specifics of that realization must necessarily differ as each member of the body in the purposes of history differs. Who can fathom the depths of God's wisdom in these matters? It is a fearful thought to consider that the Reformation of faithfulness, whether individual or corporate, could still lead the individual or group into an exile that has steadily solidified itself in the destiny of a nation so long rebellious. But it is a comforting thought to know that even in such a case as that, the Lord God has not abandoned His Bride, nor left His own to go without His presence.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Principles of the first order

I've been thinking a lot about the proper order of things recently, and in particular the proper order of things that should concern the Christian mind, motives, and efforts. If you randomly select several Christian denominations, you are likely to find that each one differs in what it emphasizes as "first order" principles. I don't mean "first order doctrines," although, unfortunately, those things do sometimes differ. It is less often the case, however, that you see Christians disagree that the Trinity is the most basic of Christian beliefs, followed by the definition of Christ's divinity and humanity, the personality of the Holy Spirit, and other issues directly relating to the nature of the God we worship. It makes sense that any religion that is intellectually rigorous would acknowledge the priority of defining its object of worship, not only for the positive function of understanding what it is one is worshipping, but also for the negative function of distinguishing the object of worship from alternative objects (false gods) and erroneous conceptions of the true object (heresies).

Rather, by "first order principles," I mean those aspects of Christianity that Christians like to emphasize as distinctive of their particular communion. When one moves into the questions of what such "first order beliefs" ought to be, and how those translate into the daily living of Christians in God's overarching purposes, things become quite a bit murkier. Just as Aslan counsels Jill when she is up on the mountain in Aslan's country that the signs she is to remember will not appear as clear when she is in the fog of the world below, so Christians too find that the clearest of doctrines in their intellectual consideration them become murkier when they are applied in the "darkened glass" of this present life. Or better yet, one wonders whether any systematic or universal approach is taken in the development of first order principles? What are the prerequisite principles God has given for us to know as Christians, in order that we may properly integrate all that God has revealed to us, and for the purposes He has given us to follow, obediently?

The following is my attempt to identify and explicate three basic prerequisites of consistent Christianity that are consonant with a Biblical understanding of reality, and therefore are necessary and sufficient for propagating a healthy Church in the midst of a world full of alternatives and errors that will ultimately undermine Christianity and destroy the health of the Church. Let's call these "principles of the first order."

1. Scriptural Presuppositionalism. The first principle has been a facet of the Reformation tradition from the beginning, but has been most explicitly formulated of late by Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark in the field of apologetics. Scriptural Presuppositionalism is a first order principle because it precludes the adulteration of God's revelation to man. Unless one begins and ends one's thoughts upon the authority and content of Scripture, one will have an alternative and competitive authority in its place. Christ is clear that one cannot serve two masters, and that man is to live by every word that proceeds from God (Matt. 6:24 and Matt. 4:4, respectively). If one does not begin and end with Scripture, then there is another master he serves and another word he lives by, whether wholly or in part. This first order principle corresponds to the philosophical category of epistemology, or what concerns knowledge.

2. Theonomic Ethics. The second principle has also been around at least since the Reformation, and even the major opponents of the capital "T" theonomy (e.g. Meredith Kline) acknowledge that the Westminster Confession of Faith is a theonomic document. I don't think it is necessary to have a fully developed jurisprudence based upon OT and NT law in order to fulfill the requirements of this second principle. The main point is that for the Church to thrive it must love God's law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, and wish to see others conform to God's law, whether out of genuine love, or fear of divine or divinely ordained (i.e. the State) retribution. Some may grow antsy at such a suggestion, but consider that few people (and none who are relatively powerless) would want to live in a society that did not actively seek to curtail blasphemy, disregard for authority, murder, lying, stealing, adultery, etc. Also, theonomy follows upon Scriptural Presuppositionalism by logical implication. If one's authority begins and ends with Scripture, then one's ethics and code of laws must also be Scripturally derived. What man or group of men will be capable of providing laws and a code of justice equal in wisdom and goodness to those laid down by God Himself? The Church need not agree on whether a fornicator should be executed or only pay remuneration in order to agree upon the necessity of having the State actively seek to prevent fornication. Christians who aren't theonomists seem to unwittingly acknowledge the legitimacy of theonomy in their opposition to things like State mandates for the distribution of birth control and STD vaccinations to children. Is not their presupposition that the State ought to curtail rather than enable fornication?* And the point is not to argue that laws will change hearts, save families, and make societies regenerated. But a society that honors God's law, even if only outwardly, will be a more just society than one that disdains God's law. How much more so for the Church, who is the bride of Christ and beholden to her Husband's commands? This first order principle corresponds to the philosophical category of ethics, or what concerns duties.

3. Postmillennial Eschatology. The third principle is predates the Reformation and it has been the prominent view in the Church until recent years. Like all other eschatologies it acknowledges Christ's sovereign rule and power over all principalities and powers, whereby all principalities and powers shall ultimately be subdued "under the feet" of the conquering King Jesus. The main difference is that postmillennialism further acknowledges that the Church has a direct role in the King's conquest, through the baptizing and discipling of "all nations," according to the "Great Commission" given to the disciples by Christ after His resurrections. Christ first declares that all authority is His, then, upon the basis of that authority He gives the command to disciple the nations, and finally, He ensures their success by promising His presence in their efforts "until the end of the age." That Christ shall reign until all enemies have been put under his feet (the last enemy being death) is of key importance. Interestingly, in Romans 16:20 Paul tells the Church that God will soon crush Satan under their feet! Paul seems to expect that the Spirit is working presently toward that end through the efforts of the Church, rather than forestalling conquest until a cataclysmic end-game-rescue by Christ, whether after a spiraling diminution of the Church in a increasingly sinful world, or by a relatively, but not world-wide effectual influence of the Church. The inseparability of the Head of the Church (Christ) from the Body of the Church (Christians) is another prima facie argument for postmillennialism, if you take the time to think it through. Also, one need not lapse into progressivism (the life of the Church in the world grows better and better uninterruptedly through the passage of time), or perfectionism (the Church grows more and more holy until there is no sin left, and no unbelievers, either) in order for postmillennialism to be true. Postmillennialism does not dictate the pattern of development of the Church in history intermediately, but it does indicate the long term implications of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the world up to the end. This first order principle corresponds to the philosophical category of metaphysics**, or what concerns existence.

I've self-consciously limited myself to three "first-order" principles that I think are necessary for consistent Christianity and a thriving Church. If understood properly and consistently related, second order principles that might register high on various denominational lists would fall into their proper place. For example, I would argue that covenant theology is central to the proper interpretation of Scripture. Indeed, I would argue that covenant theology is what Scripture itself reveals as its basic structure for God's relationship with man. Therefore, if I accept Scriptural Presuppositionalism, it follows by logical implication that I will arrive at covenant theology. Some may wonder whether my attention to logical implication is warranted, or even supported by the principles I've outlined as "first order." Again, I think Scriptural Presuppositionalism accounts for the priority of logic in accounting for or judging what the Scriptures principally teach. What the Bible reveals about the Godhead, its use of logic in revealing God's thoughts to man, and the assertion of the priority of truth (which, though not strictly discovered by logic, is nevertheless evaluated logically for firm understanding) all make logic a necessity. I recognize that admitting as much does not guaranty that any of us will use logic properly, but I also affirm that those who take logic seriously will come to more logical conclusions than those who disdain logic, or find it largely uninteresting or irrelevant.


*Certainly some people will refrain from fornication, or at least pursue it less vigorously if the potential consequences of it were not otherwise prevented.

**Some may grow curious as to the categorization of postmillennialism as a metaphysic. Strictly speaking postmillennialism is a matter of history, which has to do with the progress of events in the world, and not the nature of the world in terms of its being. Fair enough. However, since the Bible itself rarely speaks in metaphysical terms (at least in terms of the "isness" of things), the import of considering "what the being of the world is," ought to be conceived differently. God's chief concern for man's understanding of the world seems to be its teleological purpose and the means by which God is working the world out toward that end. In other words, God doesn't tell man the "isness" of a tree, but He does tell man that he is responsible to tend and keep the tree in order to please God*** and thereby manifest His glory. Figuring out how to "tend and keep" the tree is the "physics" and knowing the nature of man's relation to the tree ("tend and keep") and his purpose in that relation ("to please God") is the "metaphysics." Teleologically speaking, postmillennialism is the doctrine of God's cosmological purpose, and cosmology is a fundamental branch of metaphysics.

***The phrase "to please God" here is kept simple for the sake of brevity and ease of understanding. There are manifest distinctions and intermediary means that lead up to this overarching end, which deserve to be contemplated thoroughly. The main point is that all of the many, many ways in which God desires us to live before Him in the world are all tied up in the purpose to bring Himself pleasure, or glory.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Roman Education from Cicero to Quintilian

The book above is one I'm currently reading as I continue to develop my knowledge of the Classical world. I've enjoyed learning a bit more about Cicero's time period and education, as well as the thought behind his rhetorical treatises. I'm only about halfway through the book at present, but it is an easy and enjoyable read on rhetorical education in classical Rome.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reflections on Poverty

I recently took a trip to Philadelphia for an academic conference. It was my first trip to Philadelphia, and I was happy to spend some time seeing the sights and enjoying some of the particularities of the city. It was the fourth time I've been able to attend this particular conference, the previous ones being in Memphis (2006), Seattle (2008), and Minneapolis (2010). There are always unique experiences in a new city, and Philadelphia was no different. I was surprised at how friendly many of the people were. The concierge desk had several folks who appeared to really enjoy their work, and to have a genuine love for the city and its attractions. Although there was some of the stereotypical inhospitable demeanor of northern folks, I was pleasantly surprised to have a couple of good conversations with restaurant owners and workers.

The most memorable experiences were my encounters with the homeless people in the city, of which there were a larger number than in any of the previous cities where the conference has been held (though I can hardly speak for Memphis, as I was only there for a night and a day). Three particular encounters are of note.

The first occurred while a friend and I were walking by city hall. As we were gazing up at the high clock tower a man dressed in shabby clothes, wearing a ball cap and sunglasses moved toward us and spoke a friendly greeting. He proceeded to ask us where we were from and began to give us a tour of sorts of the building. After his short presentation he told us that he was homeless and that he gave these tours as a job to make some money. He told us that he had melanoma, and he showed us the sores on his arms and upper torso. He mentioned a wife and child, and said he wanted the money to feed them. I declined to give him money, since I have in the past been duped into giving money to those who only used it for alcohol or worse things. I did offer to buy him a meal, or take him to the local CVS where there were a few groceries he could buy. The sad part was that he wasn't interested in food, and though he pleaded with us that he wasn't a drunk or a drug addict, he was unwilling to "break his routine," as he called it, and accept the charity we were willing to offer. After his last refusal he peaceably let us move on our way.

The second occurred as I was walking from the conference hotel to Tenth Presbyterian Church for Sunday worship. I was by myself, and as I passed a couple (a young man and woman) on the sidewalk the man (who turned out to be the same age as I) asked if I could spare some money for food, as they hadn't eaten in awhile. I told him that I wouldn't give him money, but that I'd be glad to buy them a meal, and he happily agreed. Providentially, the corner I had just passed had an IHOP, so we went there together as a trio. As we waited to be seated I was able to talk with the couple. I showed them some pictures of my family and asked a bit about their situation. As it turns out, the young lady had gotten pregnant at 16 by another man and had a seven-year-old daughter. The father had gotten custody, but was good enough to allow her to visit, though it wasn't as easy as when her mother had the child. She had met Greg (the man in our present company) during a shared stint in rehab, and they had been together for the past three years. Sophie and Greg had been doing well, and had a baby girl about six months into their relationship. Greg was working at a truck-loading job, and they had a place to live and money to live on. The baby got sick and eventually died of septic shock, and it was then that the couple, in their grief, descended into poverty and homelessness. Presently they were trying to get birth certificates so that they could apply for social security cards and then get federal assistance. As they shared their circumstances I encouraged them to seek out a neighborhood church where, I hoped, they would find people willing to help them either in their quest for federal assistance, or even better, who would help them to get back on their feet and find full-time employment. For their part they agreed that seeking more directed help from others would be a good plan, and as the food arrived I requested to pray for them, to which they agreed. As I was departing I saw the name "Abigail" tattooed on Sophie's neck and I asked her if that was the name of her departed child. She said it was and mentioned that her other girl was named Hannah (also my wife's name), adding that she had been told that both of these names were Biblical names. I shared with them about who Hannah and Abigail were in the Bible, and they seemed surprised and, I hope, encouraged. After the worship service I enquired about the church's ministries to the homeless, and I took down the information in the hopes of finding Greg and Sophie on my way back to the hotel, but I never saw them again.

The third episode involved a middle-aged homeless man who vigorously sought to shine the shoes of myself and two friends as we were taking our luggage to a separate hotel for the last night of our conference (having only been able to secure three nights at the conference hotel). He was quite adamant about the poor state of our shoes and his own inability at procuring work for that day (it was almost 7 p.m.). He told us that he wanted to get food for himself, so I offered, as I had the others, to buy him a meal. He insisted on shining our shoes, promoting his own high standard of work ethic and frequently making reference to God. He agreed to wait while we checked into the hotel and put our things away, and we reluctantly agreed to let him shine two pairs of our shoes. While he was working he not only did a fine job of shining our shoes, but he shared what he considered his wisdom, even singing two original songs he wrote. One song was about treasures on earth and treasures in heaven, the hook being, loosely paraphrased, "I may not have treasures on earth, but God's got a plate for me." The other was a song he wrote for President Obama, and the hook was, again loosely paraphrased, "we got to rebuild America from the bottom up." He spoke of his seven children and of his hardships at a previous job. His favorite theological maxim, which he cited often, was "You've got to let go, and let God." These words proved ominous later, however. When he finished his work and we began to walk, I asked him where he would like to eat. He mentioned his work ethic and spoke of fair wages and requested that we pay him cash. I told him that it was the meal we had promised, and that promise was made without seeking his services, which we accepted only upon his insistence. He sought to haggle with us some more, citing more abstract principles, including his theological maxim, "You need to let go, and let God." He, like the first homeless man, insisted upon his upstanding character, his avoidance of drug and drink, and insisted that our skepticism was an attempt to play God and judge him, rather than "let go, and let God," and give him his due wages. I told him that I wasn't going to let him manipulate us into something other than what we had agreed upon before. He grew more indignant and cited his need to pay rent and to feed his family who was on the other side of town and who wouldn't benefit from his getting a meal. I offered to buy some groceries, as I did for the first homeless man, but he said the groceries were "too expensive here," and mentioned a cheaper grocery across town where he would buy the goods. I told him that I was only going to buy him food or groceries, and he became more hostile, shouting expletives and showing more signs of visible agitation. One of our party gave me some cash and left to go meet his friends who were waiting upon him, and the homeless man, whom we later learned was named Duke, thought that the money was intended for him. Eventually I was able to coax him to a local friend chicken joint that was on the corner (he had wanted Popeye's, which was down in the subterranean train station, but we didn't feel comfortable following his lead, since he was growing more hostile). He got his meal, but he remained indignant, and though I took his hand, looked him directly in the eye, thanked him for his fine work and offered God's blessing to him, he shouted me down saying, "God's already blessing me, don't you see! Why can't you just let go and let God!?" As we parted he looked back at us and said "If you judge me, its over for you," which seemed quite an ominous threat, especially given that he knew where we were staying, but we never saw Duke again after parting.

I was so discouraged in the aftermath of our episode with Duke, having genuinely wanted to believe his high-minded principles and his thoughtful moral maxims. In the end it was no more than a well-practiced routine to prove to "people like us" that he was a man who wasn't simply after charity, who genuinely wanted to care for his family, and who simply did what he could as an entrepreneur with the skill set he possessed. As a fifty-three-year-old man, as he said, I can only wonder how many years he had been perfecting his deceit. I had thought the man from our first encounter had a pretty elaborate con, but Duke's con was by far the more advanced. Every word, every look, every far-flung maxim was calculated to our white, middle-class, Puritan work-ethic mentality. He even went so far as to mention his willingness to play the deferential "working boy" to his previous boss ("so long as I get paid," he added). I remain astounded at the lengths to which a man may go, the ingenuity with which he will perfect his skill, and the doggedness he will display in his pursuit for the desire prize when the outcome of all his aims is enslavement to whatever habit has dominion over his soul. I was glad that Duke took the meal, though I'm not sure how much he needed it. Food is no solution to his poverty, any more than it will solve the problems of Greg and Sophie. The habits to which any of us are enslaved, whether it be drugs, or sex, or the praise of men, or the power to control others--these habits are part and parcel the corruption we inhabit in our fleshly nature, inherited from our fallen parent. So much of the greatness of God's image remains intact, as was so evident in my encounters with Duke and with the first homeless man, but that greatness was enslaved to desires that had plunged those men into self-destruction from which they were, and I was, powerless to rescue them. I have no clue as to what the Spirit of God was about in moving my path into the path of these homeless people. I know that I could have done more to promote Christ to each of them, though I certainly could have done less, and worse, too. I am thankful that the Lord allowed Greg and Sophie to receive the food I was willing to offer, and I cling to their graciousness in receiving that gift even more in light of the experiences that bookended my time with them.

I pray that God's Spirit would not leave any of the people I met in the despair of poverty, and especially the poverty of the soul that is so much more evident in the absence of earthly goods. None of us have in ourselves the equipment for our own deliverance and for achieving the abundance of joy we all desire.

Thus says the LORD:
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Conflict in institutional change

"Where Marx was grievously in error [in making class conflict the central fact in historical interpretation] was in singling out the ill-defined category of class--the institution in capitalist society with the least possible claim to being regarded as a significant structure of personal allegiance and functions--and in investing conflict with a teleological essence that must make it culminate in a new Golden Age of tranquility. He was wrong in overlooking the far more momentous conflicts in social history between such institutions as kinship, religion, gild, and State. But Marx was profoundly right in stressing the centrality of conflict in institutional change."

Nisbet, The Quest for Community, 80-81.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler

Chandler, Matt. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 240 pp.

The Explicit Gospel is the first book by The Village Church pastor Matt Chandler. Chandler has been a pastor since 2002 and gained some recent notoriety for battling and overcoming cancer, much like a kindred and similarly passionate preacher, John Piper. Chandler is notable for his animated, sporadic, and outgoing speaking style, some of which comes through in the pages of his book, most notably in his use of colloquialisms and descriptive examples from his own experience or from popular culture.

The theme of the book is evident in the title, but is “explicitly” stated in the introduction. Chandler is fighting against “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a phrase he borrows from author Christian Smith. The new name is for Christianity’s oldest enemy-from-within, self-righteousness, or, more specifically, seeking to earn God’s favor by virtue of our own behavior. The explicit gospel is the antidote to this tendency toward behaviorism.

The book is organized into eleven chapters under two general headings: “the gospel on the ground,” and “the gospel in the air.” The former is the individual, humanistic (in the good sense of the word) way in which the gospel may be understood. The latter is the corporate, cosmic way in which the gospel may be understood. The gospel on the ground is subdivided into chapters on God, Man, Christ, and Response. The gospel in the air is subdivided into chapters on Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation. There is a third major heading, but it handles “implications and applications” of the two general categories. The chapters subdividing this third section include a chapter each on the dangers of focusing too much on the “ground” or too much on the “air,” and a third chapter that seeks to provide practical help in living an “explicit” gospel.

The most obvious strength of Chandler’s book is his ability to speak about important aspects of the gospel in ways that the majority of “casually churched” individuals can understand and find familiar to their experience. The sorts of people who have some familiarity with Christianity, but may have done very little theological study seem to be the target audience of Chandler’s book. He won’t miss them for being to academic, nor play to any ignorance by being to vapid. Another strength is the book’s organization. The overall arrangement is easy to follow and the chapters are divided into small chunks, usually with remarks organized into several numerically indicated points.

Strengths within the content include Chandler’s ability to make good use of Scriptural exposition for most of the chapters in the book. He does not make much use of any confessions, creeds, or “old dead guys,” however, which I’ll get to below. I think Chandler’s does a fair job of using a few good texts and coming back to them several times, rather than the approach of culling many snippets from all over the Bible, which helps to show the unity of Scripture, but loses something in the depth of exposition.

As it often happens in books that seek a broad lay audience, Chandler’s attention to theological detail, historical documents and theologians of the past, and even sound logic suffer. This is particularly the case in the third section of the book, where he gets into implications. Most of the examples come from contemporary experience or recent history, losing much of the richness of biblical exposition that came in the earlier chapters. The lack of appeals to the historical language of the church, while perhaps understandable given his audience, underscores Chandler’s own limitations. He relies heavily upon contemporary authors, and where he does make use of older lights in the Church, it is usually for a catchy quote, and not for a developed theological argument.

Considering argument, another weakness of Chandler’s is his imprecision with logical implication. In his chapters on the dangers of the gospel and on the ground and in the air, all of his claims are based upon what sort of things he surmises to have occurred as result of either, but none of his examples follow necessarily upon a too-acute focus upon individual aspect of the Gospel or cosmic aspects of the Gospel. In fact, one might ask the question, “how can focusing on any portion of truth lead to error?” The real point is not that one or another aspect of the truth has been consider too closely, or emphasized too much, but rather, they have been misunderstood or incompletely developed. Perhaps this seems a overbearing criticism, but there is a danger in treating truths as anything other than glorious. Chandler unwittingly drags down the things he seeks to lift up by failing to make the proper distinctions between truth, which never misleads, and errors that masquerade as truths.

There were a few times when I found Chandler very refreshing to read, and other times I was bogged down by the wealth of personal anecdotes, pathos-driven examples, and popular jargon. Other will, I am sure, find those to be the best portions of Chandler’s book. If you are interested in doing theological heavy lifting, this book won’t present a challenge. If are someone, or you want to help someone, who has never really understood the basics of the gospel get a good overview of the gospel, then Chandler’s book is a worthy choice. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Communion

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4 ESV) 
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ESV) 
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV)

Surrounding the passage from 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul indicts the Corinthians for unworthy participation in the Lord's Supper, there are these interesting descriptions of the corporate body of Christ. The descriptions speak of eating and drinking and of being baptized. The common thread in each of them is the unity. The whole of Israel in the wilderness partook of Christ in baptism and in spiritual food and drink. The whole of the Church is one bread, one body, partaking of one bread, which is Christ. The whole of the Church is baptized into one body, drinking of one Spirit.

The tremendous unity portrayed in baptism and the Lord's Supper stands in stark contrast to the practice of the Corinthians in taking part in the Lord's Supper:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Corinthians 11:18-22 ESV)
Paul isn't simply arguing that there is a wrongful participation in the Lord's Supper, but that the Supper isn't even genuine because the necessary unity of the Body is absent. Notice that the emphasis is not upon what the Corinthians are contemplating during the Supper, but the fact that they are intentionally dividing themselves into factions and separating some of the Church out from the Lord's Meal. Immediately following this indictment, Paul gives the words of institution, followed by the stern warning:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32 ESV)
There seems to be two problems in what the Corinthians are doing. First, and I think foremost in the context, the Corinthians are effectively excommunicating one another from participation in the Body of Christ. An apt metaphor would be the willful amputation of a limb. The second problem is the lack of sobermindedness in their participation in the Lord's Supper. Instead of acknowledging the bread and wine as communion with Christ, through the Holy Spirit, by faith, in His body and blood (something immediately analogous to the Israelites feeding on Christ in the wilderness), they are eating and drinking as if the meal were common, thereby disdaining the Lord's Presence at His own meal.

Paul concludes the section with a command that addresses both issues:
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Corinthians 11:33-34 ESV)
The Corinthians are to participate as one unified body, and they are to participate not as though the meal is common, as though it is but a way to replenish their physical bodies, but for the spiritual nourishment of communing, by faith and by the Spirit, in the body and blood of Christ.

It is at this point where we can introduce the contemporary Presbyterian debate concerning children at the Lord's Table. Paedocommunionists rightly recognize that Paul's primary emphasis is upon the disunity created by the Corinthians' willful exclusion of their brothers and fellow members of Christ's body. Certainly, Paul's thought is not concentrated upon children, whose ability to sin in this way is extremely limited, if not impossible. Nonpaedocommunionists rightly acknowledge Paul's emphasis upon recognizing the spiritual meaning of the Lord's Supper that Paul desires the Corinthians to attend to faithfully. To take the meal as if it were any other meal is to profane the communion with our Lord.

The issue then becomes, is a child of the covenant profaning the Supper if they partake of the meal while lacking an adult understanding of what it means? I think the answer has to be no, and for the same reason that we don't consider covenant children heretics for having modalist or tritheist views of God, or of having a Nestorian view of the hypostatic union as we seek to guide their thoughts according to Scripture and our Creeds and Confessions. The meaning of the Lord's Supper is both simple and profound; simple insofar as we believe that Christ is truly and really united with us in our partaking, and profound in seeking to discern the fullness and precise nature of that union. A typical covenant child may easily accept upon the instruction of a parent that partaking in the Supper is not a "snack" or a "meal" like any other meal, but is our opportunity to "draw close to God our Father, through His Son, and by His Spirit". In fact, I would argue that the typical covenant child's good faith acceptance of such parental instruction is far less skeptical and "hard to swallow" than the new adult convert who has greater baggage of years of unbelief and autonomous, unbiblical thinking against which he must fight. The typical covenant child rests comfortably in his parents' explanation, not because he has laid hold of the full doctrine through a systematic and logical analysis of the terms, but because he loves and trusts the authority (i.e. parents) God has set over him, and that is precisely the sort of faith required, for it is how Jesus said those who believed in Him had access to the Father, and how those who believed in the testimony of the Apostles had access to the Son and to the Father, and how the Apostles told their ministers how the people would have access to the Apostle's testimony, and to the Son, and to the Father. In other words, those whom God appoints as spiritual authorities bear His name and are His representatives in whom faithful trust is received as genuine and obedient. It is upon those representatives' heads should they deceive those under them into unbelief and disobedience, causing God's little ones to stumble (perhaps this explains many adults' reticence to allow their children's faith in their instruction to count as faith in God, effectively hiding the "talent" God has entrusted to them lest they risk being blamed for its misuse).

A child's ability to articulate their faith verbally is far less developed than that an adult, but a child's ability to wholeheartedly accept and rest in the instruction of his parents is far more developed than that of an adult who is a new convert to trust in the testimony of the pastor or elders--far more developed, perhaps, than even an adult who is simply immature in the faith, and not newly converted. It is granted that where children are welcomed to the Lord's Table the parents bear a sober and weighty responsibility to shepherd their children in the proper posture and principles of participation. But that great responsibility is wed to minds that are supple, responsive, and, in general, delight to follow wherever the parents lead.

Another issue, which would take more space than I'd will end up using here, is whether or not the contemporary church, including and especially  the Presbyterians for whom this debate is most relevant, have a proper grasp of the importance and vitality of the Lord's Supper in the life of the Church. Robert Letham, in his book, Union with Christ, gives two thesis about the Lord's Supper that indicate, in brief, the significance of what participation entails:
The body and blood of Christ are not materially, corporeally, or physically present in the Lord's Supper. . . .As surely as we eat the bread and drink the wine, so Christ enters our souls. As WCF 29.7 says, the faithful receive and feed on Christ in the Lord's Supper really and truly. No amount of stress on the spiritual aspect of the Supper, which is of course a correct stress, can ever diminish the real and true feeding that takes place there. As Jesus said, "my flesh is true meat and my blood is true drink" (John 6:51-58). Or in the words of Paul, in union with Christ we are given "one Spirit to drink" (1 Cor. 12:13). . . .In the Lord's Supper we are lifted up to feed on Christ. This is real and true, for it is communion with the Son in the Holy Spirit and thus entails personal access to the Father. We are given to share in the life of the Trinity. In the Supper, the Spirit lifts us up to feed on Christ. Since he is God, he joins things separated by distance, as Calvin said, uniting those that are spatially far apart. The Spirit and the Son are indivisible with the Father in the unity of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the Spirit's distinctive work is to glorify Christ and lead his people to him through the faith he gives them. Indeed, Paul regards the Spirit as so close to the risen Christ that he can call him "the Spirit of the Lord" and "the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17)
Presbyterians who wish to emphasize that the gospel ought to be the central message of every sermon should find in Letham's description of the Supper the visual analogy of the centrality of the gospel preached. Augustine called the Supper, "a kind of visible word of God." Where the gospel is preached through the sermon, it is also displayed and partaken of through the Supper. What Christian would knowingly flee from the opportunity to have the closest foretaste of the new heavens and earth offered this side of its realization--the Spirit's drawing us directly into the presence of Christ, by faith? What father who loves his child, and trusts God's Covenant promise to his child, would not desire his son or daughter such sublime access to the Triune God? What father who has accepted and acknowledged the promises of God for his child in the waters of baptism would want to refuse a chief benefit of those promises in the spiritual nourishment of the Son in union with Father and Spirit that is accomplished at the Table of Christ? This is no check-mark on the list of "good Christian achievements," nor is it a competition to see how young a child's "progress in understanding" can be accomplished. It is a real and true union and communion with our Triune God. It makes no sense to objectively regard our children as possessing fellowship with God and to keep them from the meal by which they are drawn closest to Him by faith. The historic, common Presbyterian confessions regarding the Covenant, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper are so far from precluding children from the spiritual realities set forth in the Supper it is baffling to me that the debate exists at all, much less that it is the paedocommunionist who stands in the minority position.

I am in genuine consternation and anguish over these things, and though I believe that I understand the majority position on the matter, I am far removed from comprehending the conviction it carries with so many.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Society's Basic Unit

'The family is not of man's making; it is a gift of God and full of life. Upbringing in the family bears a quite special character. No school or educational institution can replace or compensate for the family. "Everything educates in the family, the handshake of the father, the voice of the mother, the older brother, the younger sister, the baby in the cradle, the sick loved one, the grandparents and the grandchildren, the uncles and the aunts, the guests and friends, prosperity and adversity, the feast day and the day of mourning, Sundays and workdays, the prayer and the thanksgiving at the table and the reading of God's Word, the morning and evening prayer. Everything is engaged to educate one another, from day to day, from hour to hour, unintentionally, without previously devised plan, method or system. From everything proceeds an educative influence though it can neither be analyzed nor calculated. A thousand insignificant things, a thousand trifles, a thousand details, all have their effect. It is life itself that here educates, life in its greatness, the rich, inexhaustible, universal life. The family is the school of life, because there is its spring and its hearth.' In A.B.W.M. Kok, Herman Bavinck, Amsterdam, 1945, pp. 18 19.]

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Satan and Immanuel

There is a reason why Satan is named Satan. The word means "accuser, adversary, opposer, obstructor, " in Hebrew. He opposed God in Heaven. He opposed God's first man and woman in the Garden. He opposed Job in the book bearing that name.

There is an "opposing" reason why the Son of God is named Immanuel in His incarnation. The word means "God with us," but the connotation is more than just that of presence. It includes and perhaps emphasizes a union by steadfast faithfulness and support. Isaiah 8:10 brings out this emphasis well: "Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us" (ESV). The counsel or word that will not stand is that of opposition, the plans laid for the destruction or conquest of God's people. But these plans are thwarted because "God is with us," that is, God is for us.

The importance of Jesus Christ as our Immanuel is that it is by His accomplished and continuing work that the accusations and opposition of Satan are nullified; made of no effect. Manifest though the schemes and suggestions of Satan and his minions may be, great though his power and influence may be (or have been), it is incomparable to the God of the Universe who is with us and for us.

If we imagined Satan as the prosecution's key witness (as when God, the judge of all the heavens and earth, says, "consider my servant Job" to Satan) we could also imagine God the son as the key witness in our defense (as when Job's self-defense seems hopeless and he cries, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth," Job 19:25). The Lord God of Truth, the Logos of God, the Wisdom and Power of God stands between the judge and the accused and pleads His own righteousness in their stead: for He is God with us, Immanuel. Therefore James can say, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:6-7). With the judge appeased and satisfied in his justice He no longer stands in judgment, but has declared righteousness for our account and can no longer take account of Satan's accusations. His testimony is out of order. His claims have no claim upon those in Immanuel's hands.

Therefore the believer must, as James says, submit himself to the judge, who is now no longer judge, but Father, by virtue  of the sonship conferred upon those claimed by the Son, as joint heirs. The voice of God no longer condemns, but disciplines. He no longer stores up wrath, but pours out mercy. He no longer sits upon the bench to execute vengeance on us, but draws us up onto his knee to train us in His grace. Where before we feared God and despaired of His wrath, now we fear God and marvel of His love, for,

"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 John 4:13-18 ESV)

And if God loves us, Satan's hate is of no effect. Neither can sin have any power over us that we cannot defeat,

"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:3-5 ESV)

The believer in Christ need not bear any accusation, however many reproaches he must endure, for the love of God is for him, to grow him up into perfection through however many trials and falls and redirections may be required. Let no son of God fear the reproach of God or of a brother or of an unbeliever, for they are all the gentle hand of the Father to bring him up into the image of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.